Discovery, Play and Choice

My husband is installing central air conditioning.  “Dawn, can you come down here?”  I hear him yell from the bowels of our basement.  I know he is going to need my help holding or lifting something, so I head down to the basement and follow the sounds of sheet metal clanging.  “I called you a little premature, I’ll need you in a few minutes.” he says as he shifts duct work around.

I find myself waiting in the basement right in front of all my old journals and professional books.  They call me.  Before I open a journal, I take a minute to read the authors names, Hansen, Graves, Routman, Newkirk, Heard, Murray, Fletcher, Anderson, Ernst.  These are the writers that inspired, informed and caused me to question my own work as a teacher, as a reader, as a writer, as a mother.  Then, I fall into a random journal.  My eyes are drawn to the upper right hand corner where I see the date – June 1997.  I wonder curiously and am taken back as I slowly turn the pages and soak in my twenty year old memories and thinking.

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“Ready, honey!”  I am snapped out of my journals and back to the present .  “Let’s move this air handler!” he yells with determined energy.

This journal from twenty years ago has moved from the basement.  For the past week, it has had a home on our coffee table.  “What’s 1335?  Is that your old house?”  Hannah, my 17 year old, asks. “Yes.  That’s the house we brought you home to after you were born.” I reply nostalgically.   “I know,” she says in a 17 year old, snarky, know-it- all tone “we drive by it every now and then.”

My early years of teaching were filled with discovery and play.  My journals were (and still are) where my worlds collide.  I write about teaching, I throw ideas on paper, I record children’s thinking, I observe children in sketches.  I draw my home, the people, the plants, the doors, the trees – the setting and characters.  When I use my journal to capture moments from my teaching world and my home world – the two worlds inform each other.

During the last week of school, my own children were home.  Each night I would gently remind them “Find something to do, please don’t stare at electronics all day. Do something together. ” “AND don’t forget to load your dishes in the dishwasher – you guys know I hate to come home to a pile of dirty dishes!”

This is what I came home to that week.  This is the kind of mess that makes me smile.  These messes are filled with discovery and play.

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In Joy Write, Ralph Fletcher writes, “when students or teachers have real choice in writing, you start to see genuine passion.”  Discovery, play, and choice are essential to teaching and learning.  I believe that in order for teachers to truly understand the value of each, we must take time to play in a journal with pictures and words.  It’s summer, take the time to play with sketches and pictures and words.  See what you can discover when you sit and observe in words and pictures. Then, when school is back and you are teaching – share not just what you did or where you went – open up your journal and show them how you played in pictures and words and what you discovered.  I wonder, then, will that lead you to create a space for play and discovery in your own classroom where students have real choice and ownership and passion.

*few other pages from that 20 year old journal, still meaningful and current


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5 thoughts on “Discovery, Play and Choice”

  1. What a precious memory! I wasn’t a writer when I was a kid or even as a young adult. But I wish I was. To be able to go back to those journals… precious.

    PS My daughter is well versed in the “I-know-everything” tone too. #MomOfaTeen


  2. You clearly model this type of play and discovery- at home and school! I hope my girls are still playing around like this just like your girls! What a gift to go back in time through your journals. I liked the piece about honoring kids’ lives. ❤️


  3. Sorry, I left this reply in the wrong place last night: I can relate…not to the duct work, but to getting distracted and engrossed in the journals in my basement and the things I was thinking about 20 years ago. Does this happen to you: you’re surprised by the detail in your old life, and amazed at how much you’ve forgotten?


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